Thinking Unconstrained

Examining the world with a critical eye. Topics span a wide range including but not limited to, observations, insights, problems, solutions, proposals, and hypothetical scenarios.
Thou shalt "reduce, reuse, recycle", so spake the right hand of Gaia. The clouds parted, and the beam of divine light descended upon our chosen hero(in(e)). And we were amazed, dazzled by the splendor of the profound insight and the vast wisdom of the savior. Remember kids, "the power is yours!" exclaimed the climate guru/hierophant. Our hearts and our wallets flew open wide and we donated all we could give for the good of Terra. We the defiled creations needed to atone for our green betrayal. Our mother was in pain and she was about to indiscriminately destroy both the wicked and the worthy alike - unless we changed our ways - by willingly choosing to live in self-imposed poverty. Just ignore the ivory towers, gated gardens, private luxuries of the foam class, and the practically ineffectual decisions and inept deployment of the proposed measures in the real world by these "wisely appointed leaders" and "selfless servants of the Earth". It will all be fine as long as the planet is saved! Focus on the enemy instead - heap death upon those who do not bow to the will of Gaia! WE have the power! WE have the power! WE are the good guys!

Ecological zealotry is an ugly sight to behold, as is all frenzy of people holding irrational beliefs; Each totally convinced of the absolute steadfastness of their pillars of truth and their unwavering determination to carry out the will of the system. Contradictions are mere misunderstandings, and alternate views are unworthy annoyances to such people. They want to be right - no matter what. Not only that, you are wrong if you are not one of them. They believe the world will be perfect when they are always right - might is right - and the rights of you to be right is wrong because they say you are wrong. But if we put aside the emotionally hypercharged and identity invested aspects of environmentalism, we can see some kernels of truth blatantly visible to all willing to take a good hard look at the obvious. And the plain truth is that the activities of man for its own gain is a fundamentally destructive process. We do destroy the Earth because we excuse the destruction. We do ruin the environment because we are individuals with our own wants and needs. We ravenously consume because we can, and we care and feel guilty, but don't want to give up what we have. It's so much easier for us to shift the blame on others and propose remedies that let us "keep our cake and eat it too". Oh, the agonizing choice between schwartzwalder and cremeschnitte! How can we ever debase ourselves to eating mere apple pies?

One of the ways of "fixing the environment" is to then reduce the destructive activities and replenish the natural habitats to offset the losses. If a tree is felled, plant three more. If a lake is drained, fill three more. If a hundred fish are caught, raise three hundred more. It is the same strategy as taking care of farm lands rather than letting them go sallow and become unusable later on. Such efforts make little economic sense in the short term but they should actually be viewed as investments instead, and perhaps as an incentive to maximize the utility of the raw goods extracted from the natural sources. And one of the ways of maximizing that utility is to recycle; And to recycle locally as a profitable business. These businesses essentially form a local primary sector economy, capable of providing materials needed by local secondary sector economies. Therefore if the structures and systems are in place to enable such a vision, then the recycling effort can actually have a positive economic impact for the local communities. We could save the environment by pursuing local business ventures, and by investing in technologies that can efficiently process and extract the wheat from the chaff. Surely this is preferable to burning hydrocarbons to transport these across the globe and burying our heads in the sand; stoutly convinced that somebody else will take care of the problem for us?
Local recycling centers have been operating for decades but it's not clear if they're profitable and efficient. The extraction process is difficult even for sorted and relatively homogeneous collection of materials such as glasses, cans, and papers. Recycled materials are of lower quality than the original. But are these statements actually true? Could it be that the materials are of lower quality due to the chosen extraction process and manufacturing methodologies employed in these facilities? Is the situation purely economical and would these facilities be able to use better technologies if they were more affordable? Wouldn't having raw materials readily available as a local resource in a garbage heap actually be a good thing in terms of local industry, and the overall effort in reducing the "global carbon footprint"? How would such local industries benefit?

Let us take wine production as an example. This is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of recycling, but it is actually relevant to this discussion. Wine is produced by collecting specific grapes, pressing them to collect the juice and then fermenting that inside a vat. The sugar turns to alcohol and the resulting liquid is placed in a casket to let it mature for a number of months (it needs the extra tannin for red wine but not necessarily for white wine!). Once the batch is ready, the wine is bottled; ready for shipping. "Easy-peasy"! The recycling/reusing aspect of wine production in this general flow is in two places. The first is the casket. In order for the wine to mature, it needs to absorb the flavor of the wooden casket, but not any new casket. It needs to first have held other alcoholic beverages to soften the wood. Otherwise the wine would spoil. Therefore the casket is deliberately reused as part of the wine production process to achieve the desired flavor and quality. The other aspect of recycling in this flow is in the bottling process. Wine for the most part is bottled in glass. The glass itself can be recycled and be used again for bottling, ad infinitum. The bottles go in cardboard boxes (also recycled), packaged, and then off they go to the market, wherever that may be.

In this example, we can see the application for recycling/reusing and how they are integral to the success of the business venture. First of all, there is a competitive market for quality caskets. The maturation stage is a months long process and many respectable wine producers are very selective about where they get these. If the casket is wrong, then the entire batch is ruined. If they are not of high quality, then their usefulness will be short-lived. Their durability, constitution and suitability to the specific wine production are hence important factors to consider in something so simple as a "barrel". As for bottling, wine producers are in constant demand for high quality glass bottles. They can buy these from glass manufacturers producing bottles either from original materials or from recycled sources.

But from an operational viewpoint of wine businesses relying on such suppliers, the source of the glass does not matter as much (other than maybe for marketing purposes). It is up to the glass manufacturers to ensure that the product meets the quality expectations while meeting their target margin. If the recycled glass makes economic sense and it can be used to produce either same or of similar quality to non-recycled sources, then the incentive to use it is obvious. As a recycling industry overall, the effort needed to enable this type of vision is to then invest in methods and technologies that make recycling cheap. And one of the most industrially proven way to do this is to mechanize and to automate as much as possible. Using cheap labor instead to do dangerous and unattractive jobs like sorting garbage is not a dignified option; especially in an age where machines are available in abundance. Let the machines do what they do best and let the humans do the rest.
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By Sybilla
Glass is a brittle material and has limited applications but it can be recycled in perpetuity. Metals in a similar way can be recycled forever as long as oxidation or other corrosive degradation is not significant. Therefore if recycling as a way of maximizing the utility was the main goal, then these materials would be the prime candidates. Indeed this was the case to a certain degree before the introduction of versatile plastics derived from fossil fuels in the 20th century made its way into the lives of everyone in the industrialized world. Cheap oil was a strong motivator for economic growth during this time, and the throw-away culture of one-time-use products and efficient plastic wrappers displaced much of the functions that glass and metal materials traditionally used to provide. The problem then became what to do with the excess plastic waste that was devastatingly polluting the environment at a global scale. Garbage mountains, garbage lakes, garbage oceans, and lots of dead lifeforms; and yet the problem continued to grow unabated and the trajectory linearly followed economic growth. But does this mean that humans, their industrial activity, and their rapacious consumption caused this problem? Yes, yes it did. But it never had to have happened this way.

For example, we do not need to use plastic or any toxic material for many of the things we do in everyday life. With great concerted effort, we managed to culturally transition from using plastic bags to paper or reusable bags, which we must acknowledge was a great milestone of achievement. Being environmentally aware and making conscious choices as daily participants in a consumerist society was not a trivial undertaking. Participating in recycling programs in local municipalities was a significant change. These victories showed that we didn't need to carry on the throw-away culture, and that we could somehow fix or at least limit our destructive actions by taking small steps in becoming green-aware. Keeping non-recyclable and non-biodegradable materials out of the sensitive environments was the key ticket out of our pollution-ridden future. And we believed that if we could solve this problem, then we were going to be A-O-K and the Earth was going to stay alive and continue supporting life as we know it.

But the problem did not vanish just because we won some key battles. Although we were doing our individual part in fixing this common problem, there was the persistent need for using plastics in many applications. Fast forward to today, we recognize that the waning popularity of plastics means that there needs to be an alternative biodegradable and environmentally friendly material for those use-cases. Whether such materials are good enough ecologically and economically likely remains to be determined, but such efforts should be commended and widely supported. And if there is to be further development in this field, then the use case of recyclable plastics should be pursued and be pressured further in society. Consumer plastic such as those used in packaging should all transition to using recyclable/biodegradable kind if they must continue to be utilized. This would feed into the local plastic recycling economy and allow it to run more efficiently, as they would need to spend less effort separating the recyclables from the heap of mixed non-recyclables and recyclables. In other words, streamline the process and design the product life-cycle for reusability rather than for single-use throw-away garbage.
Why bother focusing on environmental conservation using technology and innovation when it's so much easier and effective to control the human activity using monetary pressures? After all, if industry is controlled and limited, then there would be less greenhouse gases and the bad actors can be easily punished with sanctions and tariffs. We must track something in order to quantify, and quantification is required to exact control. Let us use the bad gases as our metric because this is the single greatest threat to our planetary existence. The weather must be controlled by finance or our doom is assured!

To galvanize this view, let us now listen to the most sagacious words of our green guru hailing from a galaxy far far away. *Clears throat* "Control, control, you must learn control!". Watch the crowd cheer at the eco-heirophant's passionate plea, his intensely focused resolve, and his forceful closing of his tri-digit fists. Look! It appears there's a little boy in the front row taking out a "fairtrade, eco-friendly, ethical, sustainable, equality focused" chocolate bar from his front jacket pocket. Oh no, our guru is a chocoholic and has been known to have psychotic bouts of the dark side when around high cocoa content dark chocolates with enticingly spicy aromas! He's lunging! "Mine! Mine! Mine! Or I'll help you not!" *Cut live feed* Uhhh.... We apologize for this uncharacteristic outburst from our supreme leader. Like many of his alien frog species, our leader suffers from acutely triggered methane swamp gas psychosis, which is exasperated when in high carbon dioxide conditions. Please do your part in raising awareness of this little known condition, and keep your carbon emissions in close check when around alien frogs. Support the cause of the "Dagobah rescue" project by strictly limiting your industry, consumption, gas emissions and activity. Thank you for doing your part in saving our planet.

Who knows what actually triggered the green guru's sudden outburst. Perhaps he's been smoking too much of the greenhouse gases and got a serious case of the star munchies. Have we likewise been smoking too much to get lost in the green haze produced by the dry ice fog machine? Defending measures against the threat of "hot air" appears to be the trendy green, which is certainly a more convenient way of going green, while making more greens for those who do not actually want to go green. Perhaps trading in "carbon quotas" and "carbon credits" is better than nothing. And as long as the final number in the balance sheet works out, everything's going to be fine, right? It's a "global problem", so we can let somebody else on the other side of the globe pay the actual price? The wealthy can continue to live to their accustomed lifestyles because money is aplenty and they deserve to be so by the virtue of their lottery? One should in common sense never come between the wealthy and their wealth. Heed the fair warning of the Witch King of Angmar.

"Come not between the Nazgul and its organic grassfed kobe-beef fillet mignon. Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye! Obey the carbon tax system, and pay your fair share, and do not let anything threaten the emissions-backed revenue stream!" Cheap oil -> cheap gas -> greenhouse gas -> greenhouse tax -> tax revenue -> Lidless Eye's revenue -> Lidless Eye's new 24 carat gold-rimmed monocle. Who knew that going green was the new black? Beyond the black gates lies the green craters of lithium and cobalt mines, the ashen air of "sustainable" industry, and the towering palaces of the suits and their private islands of beneficent restraint. So I ask - What's the weather like over there, Shagrat? How long is the drive to the coast now, Gorbag? But most importantly - And let me be very clear about this as I look directly into your smugly indignant eyes - What's the frequency, Kenneth?